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Threats of deportation raids frighten Baltimore immigrants: 'They're afraid to go outside'

The sun shined all weekend in Baltimore, the perfect time to splash in Patterson Park’s public pool or run around its expansive green fields.

But some families in the adjacent Highlandtown neighborhood were too nervous to venture out of their homes Saturday or Sunday.

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Many immigrants are “afraid to go outside, afraid to let their kids go to the park and play,” said Tiffany Nelms, executive director of Asylee Women Enterprise, which helps asylum-seekers.

In Highlandtown and other Baltimore neighborhoods that are home to many Hispanic immigrants, the Trump administration’s recent flip-flop on a planned deportation raid stoked fear and uncertainty.

Since last week, Heidi, a Guatemalan mother of three, has been taking precautions, choosing not to leave her Northwest Baltimore home unless necessary, informing herself of her rights, and connecting with a lawyer.

“You never know with this president, everything changes from one moment to the next. So we don’t know what to expect, but it’s good to be prepared,” the 37-year-old said in Spanish.

Heidi, who asked that her last name not be used for safety concerns, warned her eldest son not to attend his early Sunday morning soccer tournament for fear he would be swept up in mass arrests. But by Saturday, Trump had announced that he would postpone plans for mass deportations and Heidi’s stress turned to relief and then mistrust, calling the president’s actions a “political strategy.”

“I just don’t know what to believe anymore. On one hand it’s a relief but on the other hand we can’t be too trusting,” she said.

Media outlets reported last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids were to begin Sunday in 10 major cities, including Baltimore. A follow-up tweet by President Donald Trump on Saturday announced a two-week delay to allow Congress to work on immigration reforms.

Maryland Rep, Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, said he was relieved that the Trump administration did not conduct the planned raids targeting migrant families for deportation this past weekend.

“Families would have been separated, which is unacceptable and immoral,” Cummings said. “America must remain better than that. However, we cannot let down our guard—the President himself stated that this was only a delay. I urge the President to abandon his reckless and cruel immigration policy entirely and work with Congress to develop a comprehensive immigration plan that ensures families remain together.”

Trump’s 280-character message only prolonged the anxieties of immigrants living in Baltimore, advocates say.

“It puts everyone on edge for the rest of the summer,” said Chad Kramer, principal at Patterson Park Public Charter School.

It’s particularly painful, Kramer said, because news of an impending raid came just as the school year ended. In areas with large immigrant population, schools are an important anchor where families can find resources and help.

“It is terrible for our community and it’s terrible it happened on the weekend after school ended,” he said. “To have the possibility of this happening without these community-based resources just feels really particularly painful.”

As the city’s population shrinks, advocates and politicians say it needs a growing, vibrant immigrant community. International migration, according to the latest Census estimates, brought nearly 2,000 new residents to Baltimore from abroad, including immigrants, students and overseas military personnel. Even that couldn’t stem the overall decline as the estimates showed the biggest population loss the city has experienced in a single year since 2001.

Along Broadway in East Baltimore and in Highlandtown, shop owners said there were fewer customers Monday. From food trucks to grocery stores, normally bustling places were much quieter than usual. Even in church on Sunday, some said attendance was down.

“This weekend was very slow,” said Abdul Abderrahim, who works in a mattress store. Spanish speakers, he said, are the store’s leading group of customers.

Normally, there are dozens of Hispanic men standing out along Broadway on a Monday morning, hoping to catch a job from people who come by looking for day laborers.

But Monday, the number was cut by a third, said Zachariah Rosado, an undocumented Costa Rican man standing in front of the 7-Eleven. He arrived on a nine-month visa, which has since expired. He said he has filed paperwork to stay but has been waiting a long time to hear something from the U.S. government.

Rosado is here, he said, because of the opportunities.

Advocacy organizations scheduled “Know Your Rights” events after news broke about the planned deportations.

Leading one workshop Monday evening, Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, regional lead organizer for CASA, said the hope is to get residents to share information about their rights beyond their family networks and in their neighborhoods.

“If we’re joined in community we can really fight back against all these threats,” Walther-Rodriguez said.

About 40 people attended the training at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Southeast Anchor Library on Eastern Avenue where advocates role-played three possible scenarios in which people could be stopped by ICE and how people can exercise their rights.

Pablo, a Guatemalan immigrant, came out to the training after work to stay better informed and know what to do if ICE shows up at his door.

The 31-year-old said in Spanish that he came to the country to work and save money to support his aging parents. Over the course of 12 years, he’s tried to find legal avenues for citizenship but after speaking to various lawyers he said there aren’t any for him.

“I do everything by the rules, I pay taxes every year. So it’s worrying when things like this happen,” said Pablo, who also asked that his last name not be used for safety concerns. “I complete my obligations as a citizen. I just don’t have the papers. In fact, I do everything by the book, but I don’t get the same benefits as a citizen.”

From behind the window of a food truck parked on Broadway, Daisy Galarza said business has changed in the past few days.

“We see less people on the street. They are coming to get food and leave,” she said.

Many people only leave their house for quick trips to the grocery store and to go to work, Galarza said. Some are deciding to skip work, she said, because they are scared.

People are moving here from Central America because they are afraid of the violence in their countries, she said. There are limited educational opportunities and the drug trafficking makes life there unsafe, said Galarza, who is in the country legally after leaving Mexico.

“We need to stay here,” she said, “to support our families.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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